Gangwon FC striker Lee Jung-hyeop (32-photo) smiled at a placard in the stands at the Pohang Steelers match on Nov. 21. The words “Handsome Lee Jung-hyeop” greeted him as he came on as a substitute in the 40th minute of a 0-0 tie.
“I’m always sorry for the fans,” Lee said to the press, “but I was really touched by the sincerity of the fans who thought of my feelings and called me handsome. Even my coworkers teased me, saying, ‘Handsome Lee Jung-hyeop?’ It made me feel good.”스포츠토토
The reason why Lee felt grateful and sorry for the fans who held up the placards was because it was his first appearance in three months. Lee tore the lateral and posterior ligaments in his left knee during training in March. If he were to go under the knife, he would be out for the season, but rehabilitation to strengthen the surrounding muscles accelerated his return. “At first, I thought it would be difficult this year because the pain didn’t decrease. However, I was encouraged by the fans’ support for my comeback through social media messages. I was still sore, but I just wanted to play,” he said.
“If I can improve my physical condition, I think good days will come for our team,” he added.
Lee’s early return was a big boost for Gangwon. Gangwon has been struggling at the back this year, being one of only 12 teams in the K League 1 to score in single digits (seven goals in 14 games). With another striker, Dino, out with a concussion, the team has been scoreless in its last four games and has slipped to 11th place in the relegation zone.
“Obviously, we’re not scoring as many goals as we did at this time last year (13). If I can help even a little bit, (Yang) Hyun-joon, (Kim) Dae-won, and players like Gallego will do it,” he said, encouragingly.
Indeed, with Lee Jung-hyeop on the field, Gangwon’s flanking wings, one of their strengths, seemed to regain their destructive power. This was evidenced by Gangwon’s offense in the final minutes of the Pohang match. “The link-up play and the fight for possession were still there,” said Gangwon coach Choi Yong-soo.
Lee Jeong-hyeop also promised a quick comeback. “It’s true that I still lack the game sense, but I was able to adapt quickly because my teammates were helping me,” he said, “I think I will gradually get better in the future. I have to do well for the fans,” he vowed.